Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Steampunk Role-Playing Games [Reposted & Updated]

This post is an updated version of my original post that can be found here if you want to read it.  The original post was a little bit of an experiment with using Google+ comments; it was not all terrible but I prefer not to force those wishing to comment to sign up for yet another service so I scrapped it.  There were some interesting comments made on that post by Studio Arkhein of Rather Gamey and Jamie Hardy of Perilous Journeys Publishing; I believe Studio Arkhein mentioned Space: 1889 - I completely forgot this game - and then Jamie listed several other steampunk games.  This is an attempt to provide the information they added without using Google+ comments.  Any new information in the post will be done in italics.  Any omission or oversight on the information is purely mine.
Steampunk week is now officially over with this post about various role-playing games in the steampunk genre.  This is not an attempt to be an exhaustive list but just a listing of links for information about some of the steampunk role-playing games I am aware of.

Abney Park’s Airship Pirates  (mentioned by Jamie Hardy)
Airship Pirates is a line of RPG and board game products based on the songs of Abney Park.  Information can be found at the Airship Pirates web page. 

Broken Gears (accidently omitted on original post by me)
Broken Gears is a free downloadable game of animistic steampunk.  The pdf and information are both available at the Broken Gears web page.
Castle Falkenstein
Castle Falkenstein was published in 1994 and I believe it is the oldest well-known steampunk rpg.  If someone knows differently, please let me know about other steampunk rpgs published before this one.  Castle Falkstein is set in New Europa during the 1870s and there are vast changes in the world such as the existence of mythical beasts, faerie races, and magic just to name a few.  I was able to find the Castle Falkenstein entry on Wikipedia that also mentioned a GURPS version but I kept getting error messages for all of the pages I found related to R. Talsorian.  Does anybody else have any information?
Jamie Hardy added: This is probably a neglected classic of steampunk because it is certainly way  more steampunk than Space 1889 which is better known.  It came out in 1993 and the setting is New Europa.  New Europa is Europe in a parallel world.  The setting is told through the perspective of Tom who was a game designer that through the use of magic at Castle Falkenstein was teleported to New Europa.  Castle Falkenstein is at the center of where parallel worlds connect.   

The setting mixes high fantasy, swashbuckling pulp, and steampunk items.  If you are looking for actual punk in your steampunk, this is not it.  You are mostly involved in court intrigue, toppling governments, stopping assassins, etc.  The focus is primarily on Continental Europe instead of the English speaking world. The setting info gets repetitious at the start and repeats the same general idea over and over, often using the same words.  It describes itself as a cross between Lord of the Rings, Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, and Grimm Fairytales. The artwork and storyline place the focus mostly on high flying adventures and  combating sorcery.  Magic comes off as the focus instead of steam, although there are fantastical items and the author probably intended that steam be a major focus.   

There are non-humans, I believe that are all called Faeries.  There is a Sellie and Unsellie Court.  Most of the action, as I said is continental Europe.  Imagine Europe in the 18th Century with battles between France, Prussia, Austria, Ottoman Empire, and the U.K.  Then add on magic and sorcerers that intervene.  Then add on steampunk technology.  Now, instead of dealing with the UK and its Empire, you focuses on central Europe where all of the countries are dealing with warfare with each other.  With that said, there is a supplement dealing with the Wild West called Six Guns and Sorcery.   
The mechanics use cards instead of dice.  Overall I would say it was both ahead and behind the times.  The production value, even for 1993 seems lacking.  The color art does not really give you any type of feel for the technology aspect of things.  Card mechanics seem more of a novelty than good game design, or at least design that people want which is why almost no game uses cards.  However, it is ahead of the time in bringing steampunk gadgets and technological innovations to the forefront.  An aesthetic change to contemporary steampunk looks, adding a dice system, and putting out a second edition 3 years ago would probably have made this the dominant steampunk game instead of an interesting relic.

Eberron is not a stand-alone game but a campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons.  Eberron was the winning design by Keith Baker in the fantasy setting search done by Wizards of the Coast back in 2002.  Eberron is notable for combining traditional fantasy with magically powered non-traditional fantasy elements such as mechanical beings and skyships.  Eberron began under the 3E version of the D&D rules and has been updated for 4E.  More information can be found on the Eberron page at WoTC or the Eberron article at Wikipedia.

Jamie Hardy: I see this more as fantasy than steampunk, but I am more restrictive on steampunk than popular culture is.  
Iron Kingdoms
Iron Kingdoms was originally published by Privateer Press in 2004 under the d20 System.  They released a new version in 2012 that changed the rules to a d6 based system that was much closer to their miniature games Warmachine and Hordes.  Although the Wikipedia entry for Iron Kingdoms does provide some general information, anyone interested should really check out the details at the Privateer Press page for the game.

Jamie Hardy: This is a fantasy rpg, but if you count Eberron, then you should count this as well.
Lady Blackbird
Lady Blackbird seemed to generate a decent amount of buzz several years ago.  If I remember correctly, it was an entry in the 24 hour rpg contest one year;  of course, I may be mistaken.  Does anyone reading this know for sure?  Lady Blackbird is set apart by the fact that is basically a steampunk game in a condensed form - there is very little prep time because the game comes with pregenerated characters, setting information, and a starting situation that will provide the details necessary for one or several sessions of play.  Lady Blackbird is available for download at the One Seven Design home page.

Leagues of Adventure (mentioned by Jamie Hardy)
Leagues of Adventure is pulp instead of punk, but since a lot of Steampunk is defined
on aesthetics this might count.  More information can be found at the page on Triple Ace Games web site.
Machinations (accidently omitted from original post by me)
Machinations is a free to download one page game with 4 one page supplements.  Machinations and the supplements can be downloaded at Gawd 'Elp Us Games.

Pax Britannica
Pax Britannica is a pen & paper steampunk rpg set in a world described on the website as "an alternate present in which faeries are real, alchemists transmute lead into gold, the world runs on steam power and the sun never sets on the British Empire".  If this sounds like an interesting setup to you, there is more information available - including the game as a free download - at Pax Britannica RPG.  It seems that they are updating the rulebook but the progress has not been updated in some time.

Space: 1889 (mentioned by freddyboomboom, Jamie Hardy, &Studio Arkhein)
Space 1889 was actually the first well known steampunk rpg; it was published from 1988 to 1991.  More detailed information can be found at the Wikipedia entry.  There is also much more information at http://space1889.org/.  Apparently, Heliograph did some reprints in the 2000 - 2001 area and information can be found at Heliograph's Space 1889 Resource Site. Finally, there is a kickstarter going on right now to get Space: 1889 reprinted and it has raised just over 3 times the amount they were seeking.  Interested parties should go read the Space: 1889 Kickstarter page. 
SteamCraft is the latest offering from Perilous Journeys Publishing and is the only steampunk game that I own.  The SteamCraft page on their web page describes the setting as "a universe that mixes the scientific wonder of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells with elements of gritty, futuristic cyberpunk...a world inspired by a 19th century Earth...where both the industrial and informational revolutions occur at the same time.".  The book is well made and is all you need to play the game.  There is a wealth of world information on nations, religions, events, etc. without the reader being overwhelmed.  SteamCraft is available in pdf or print form and there is a free GM screen available.  An expansion is planned for later in the year.  I regularly talk with the author of the game and have probably bogged him down with all sorts of silly questions related to the business side of gaming but he always answers pretty quickly and eagerly.  SteamCraft is also supported by a message board on their site and I am a regular poster at those boards.

Steampunkfitters is described as "steampunk your way" on their blog which has been  active since late 2011.  The game is available for download and there are updates to the rules in the blog posts.  The art is appropriate but definitely has an "indie feel" or "indie look" to the illustrations on the blog.  I have downloaded the rules but I have yet to give them a thorough read through.

Tephra is the result of a hugely successful kickstarter campaign done by Cracked Monocle.  Their home page is full of information related to the game.  I do not own the game so I can not give any thoughts on the system or world but there was a recent post at Rather Gamey that does a fine job detailing the poster's personal experience with Tephra.  Please, read his post because I got nothing over here but a link to the designers.

Jamie Hardy added: Tephra has its fans, but people should really look more into the system besides the d12 as well as the setting.  You can read about the combat system and some of the mechanics here:

If you want to read about the setting you can check out this review:

I would like to note that the last review indicates that Tephra has fantasy elements.  The creators do not believe this to be the case.  The non-human races are mutants that have something to do with I guess some type of contamination from toxic waste, or bombs or something like that.  There is no magic in the world.  In other words, while there are fantasy trappings, they really do not think of the game as fantasy and have rejected things like magic.   

One final note for those interested in purchasing the game.  The game was funded in February of 2012.  They have yet to fulfill all of their kickstarter rewards. You can see this for yourself in the comments section of their kickstarter page.  They still owe most of their international backers books.  The indication from the October update is that they do not have the money to send the books out.  Further, they are still obligated to produce another book which seemingly they do not have the money.   

This places consumers in a quandary.  Do you purchase the game and help them out so that they can get the books to their backers?  Or do you not want to support people who cannot meet their kickstarter rewards after 18 months and yet still spend money to travel to conventions to promote the game?  I can see people going either way on that.  Helping people out who are in over their heads, or
wanting to stay away from them.  Since people not fulfilling their KS rewards is an issue among gamers, this is something people should be aware of. 

Uber RPG: Steampunk (accidentally omitted from original post by me)

The tagline for Uber RPG: Steampunk is "welcome to a world of mad, inspirational wonders and wild scientific theory wrapped in fog, run by gears, and lit by gaslight".  If that catches your interest, then you need to visit the Uber RPG: Steampunk web page; it was down for maintenance earlier but you can also get more information at the Amazon listing.

Victoriana (3rd Edition) (mentioned by Jamie Hardy)
Victoriana is currently in the third edition of the rules.  The first two versions were Victorian and not so much steampunk, but the third edition in tone, layout, art, and tweaks to the game world has jumped on the steampunk bandwagon.  I think seeing the success of other steampunk rpgs they have decided to push that angle.  The last couple of  supplements for 2E were about convincing people that the game was steampunk. The fantastical creations, however, still rely on magic to make them work as in the previous 2 editions.  More information can be found on the Cubicle 7 web page.   

Wolsung (mentioned by Jamie Hardy)

Wolsung describes itself as Steam Pulp.  It is a Polish game that was translated and brought to the US.  I read that is has 100 pages of character creation, but I haven't seen it in a game store to verify that.  More information is available at their web page.  You can get a free test drive of the rules and world tour of the setting pdf from their site.     
Well, that is it for the listing of steampunk role-playing games.  Of course, with any list such as this there is a possibility of overlap or omission so if anyone has any additional thoughts or would like to correct something then please do so in the comments. 

The list of steampunk role-playing games is much more complete now.  I would like one more round of feedback from anyone reading this. 

Is any of the information above just completely wrong?

Are there any games I should have included?

Are there any games that I should NOT have included?



  1. Hi Charlie--glad you updated this list: I almost got hold of Tephra, but now that I know it's 0% magic and no elves and things, I think not. Although not about gaming specifically, I thought I'd share 2 steampunk sites with you.
    for those interested in other aspects of steampunk, such as events like conventions and things. Most parts of the country (and several parts of Europe & Canada) have societies & events. -Reifyn

    1. Tephra does have separate races, although I do not recall if the skinny pointing eared race is called an Elf or not. There are multiple discussions about adding magic on the forums. In terms of anything "official," I believe the attitude is that the creator wants a "pure" steampunk game and wants to separate it from fantasy.

      With that said, there is homebrew stuff about magic. The creator seems open to the idea of adding dark magic stuff for NPC's that the GM can either add or leave out. Finally, some have argued that certain aspects of the game that are science fulfill the role of magic.

      If you want a game that has magic and steampunk together, there are really two choices when it comes to the physical book. You can get the Airship Award Nominated SteamCraft for $35.95 or less. Think of it as Shadowrun crossed with Jules Verne.

      The other choice is the $49.99 Victoriana 3rd edition. The older editions have magic, but it is really Victoriana rather than steampunk. The 3rd edition redid parts of the world to make it steampunk. However, airship are rare and not as impressive in Victoriana as airship are in SteamCraft or other games.

      Oh, and if we are plugging sites, here is one people should check out: http://www.carnivalepsilon.com/

      And if you ever happen to be where they are performing, they have copies of SteamCraft they will sell you.

    2. @Reifyn: Glad you enjoyed it; compiling the list was a lot of fun. Those two links are cool and I do not mind if they are strictly gaming or not. Thanks. I just checked out your blog and I like the artwork and content - keep it up!

      @Jamie: Once again, your knowledge in this area is not only helpful but comprehensive. Awesome comments and good luck with the Airship Awards!

  2. Hey Charlie, these are some great reviews!

    Would it be all right if I chimed in?

    I'm the creator of Tephra and ran its kickstarter. We are working very hard to get the kickstarter fully wrapped up, but there have definitely been set-backs! When we go to conventions to promote Tephra, we are doing so in order to make money - and that money goes straight toward getting our international backers their long-awaited orders. Every large con that we attend nets us a few hundred dollars that we can put toward international shipping, so it's well worth the time and effort.

    We are only a few months away from having our kickstarter all cleared up. When we made $22,000 over our goal, we weren't ready for it at all, and I certainly did not know how to properly adjudicate our expenses. Nor did I realize what a blow international shipping would be. I'm making amends, slowly.

    I also wanted to touch on the fantastical elements in Tephra. There are a lot of fantastical elements - you can play elves, gnomes, satyrs, and more. And the people of Tephra can do some pretty amazing things, from hitting somebody with your "fist" from 50 feet away, manipulating their luck, speaking with animals, to walking across the air. It's all spirit-based, though. So there is no classic "arcane magic" system, but there are quite certainly a lot of spiritual elements!

    Thanks for mentioning Tephra in your reviews, and take care! ~Daniel Burrow, Executive Editor of Cracked Monocle

    1. Thanks for the comments and for stopping by!

      Feel free to chime in at any time. I have no problem with discussion or presenting all sides to anything. It's great that you identified what needed to be done and are working on getting it all cleared up. Too many people have decided to stick their head in the sand like a problem will go away if they ignore it. Good on you for working on a resolution. Steampunk is a new genre for me and I discovered it through SteamCraft but I definitely plan on picking up some more of the games. Tephra is one of those games I will buy.

  3. Depending on your definition of steampunk there is Clockwork & Chivalry (Cakebread & Walton/Cubicle 7). Although it is pre-steam (17th century) - they use windmills and waterwheels to wind massive clockwork (as well as smaller hand-wound pieces) - I feel it does fit the clockwork esthetic of steampunk.

    Also Deadlands (Pinnacle Entertainment Group) has many steampunk elements in it's weird west setting, especially in the Smith & Robards Catalogue and The Collegium. although it is complicated by the fact that Ghost Rock is a better fuel source than plain ordinary coal, even if it does come with side effects.

    Etherscope (Goodman Games) is d20 game of "etherscape adventures in an age of industry, intrigue, and imperialism." Sort of a very cyberpunky steampunk.

    Forgotten Futures is Marcus Rowland's game of "scientific romance." Steampunk before there was steampunk. He has produced a printed copy so it counts as a published game.

    Full Light, Full Steam (Kallisti Press) is a steampunk game in the spirit of Space: 1889.

    Brass, Blood, and Steam (UK Gamers) is a FATE-based steampunk game.

    GURPS Steampunk (Steve Jackson Games) is self explanatory. A lot of other sourcebooks also give information on how to apply their contents to the steampunk genre.

    The Imperial Age (Adamant Entertainment) is a d20 Victorian RPG with steampunk elements (in the _Engines_ supplement particularly).

    The New Epoch (Flightless Terror) is Yet Another D20 steampunk game.

    [Passages (Blue Devil Games) is a d20 magical reality game where people can enter classic literature and vice-versa. Features lots of steampunk, victoriana, etc as a result although it is not, strictly speaking a steampunk game per se.]

    [And while I remember there was a very nice fan-made adaption of Ars Magica called Ars Mechanica - although it was never formally published (getting the rights to do so at the time would have been a big hassle [WW era]), but it is still worth looking out for.]


  4. [cfb]

    Maelstrom Storytelling (Hubris Games/Precis Intermedia) had a strong steampunk element to it's world, especially around places like Darcartha Prime. Massive engineering with clockwork was fairly important to the Empire that was before the Maelstrom shattered existence, although Science is now considered Natural Philosophy and interfaces with Magic. Diodet is very Victorian in nature.

    Steamworks (Morrigan Press) is another mix of fantasy and steampunk using the Omni system.

    The Kereberos Club (ARC Dream) is a sourcebook for Victorian pulp adventure produced for both Wild Talents/One Roll Engine and FATE. This Favoured Land (ARC Dream) is a Wild Talents sourcebook for superheroes in the American Civil War. Not directly steampunk but often features Hyperintelligent inventors that produce steampunk goodies.

    Perfect Unrevised (Buried With Ceremony) is a dystopian steampunk where "criminals" fight the system.

    Pure Steam (ICOSA) is a yet another steampunk fantasy, based on Pathfinder this time. Although I only have a beta playtest copy of the rules so it might not be published yet.

    [Which reminds me that Sorcery & Steam (Fantasy Flight Games) was a Legends & Lairs supplement for 3E D&D. Steam & Steel (EN World) was another steampunk for D&D supplement. And Steamworks (Twelve to midnight) was yet another one. And Gearcraft (Reality Blurs) was one for True20. However these did not have their own steampunk world setting.]

    Steamfortress Victory (Industrial Dream Mills) - a US-based alternate history steampunk.

    Steampunk Musha (Precis Intermedia Games) is an alternative setting of Victorian Adventure for Iron Gauntlets.

    Clockwork Dreams is a Savage Worlds supplement for Suzerain describing the steampunk world of Mechadia.

    Unhallowed Metropolis is technically Victorian horror (and Mad Science) rather than steampunk, although the prevalence of advanced Tesla science, gas masks (due to deadly smog) and industry does provide a definite steampunk esthetic to it that makes it more than mere Victorian horror.

    Inland Empire is a D20 based steampunk world (as opposed to adding steampunk to a D20 fantasy world). Unpublished/pdf release.

    Vis Imperia Victoriana (Colin Spiers) is a short set of rules describing how to use the C&S Essence rules as a steampunk game.

    [I know I've missed a few (mainly fan-made stuff I suspect). And I tried to ignore stuff which does not have a certain general steampunk esthetic (such as pure Victorian horror, fantasy, or pulp adventure, or pure Western).]

    1. Thanks for the comment! WOW - that's a lot of information but I am glad you posted that here. I have some research to do on these and will most definitely use some as inspiration for my steampunk campaign.

    2. If you want to be thorough, or drive yourself nuts, go to DriveThruRPG and go to the steampunk section and then go to core rules. There are a lot more mentioned that these. This is why I stuck with rpgs that are in print at game stores. If not, it seems like a never ending list.

    3. Just a small extract from my personal collection. <grin>

      Most of them are available as physical copies (although generally not widely carried by distributors).

      Also remember that OBS does not provide an outlet for every publisher. Searching Warehouse 23 (the SJG site) is also a good reccomendation for finding stuff you won't find at OBS [the DriveThru stores]. PIG also doesn't use OBS and prefers to use it's own store, as does S2P. Always a good thing to remember when searching out stuff.

    4. You can get physical copies of a lot of them, but for many of them you have to pick them up used. Nothing wrong with that. No one has mentioned OGL Steampunk, which like many others, was once in print and now isn't. The easiest way to get what was mentioned in PDF:

      Etherscope is out of print
      Forgotten Futures is OOP
      Full light, Full Steam is available in print from Lulu
      GURPS Steampunk is OOP
      SteamFortress Victory is OOP

      SteamWorks, Clockwork Dreams, Inland Empire, and Imperial Age have never been in print unless there was a short time when they were POD that I cannot find a record of.

      Steampunk Musha is trying to get a physical product. They did a KS and the book was supposed to be out a year ago, but I do not think it is out.

    5. I didn't know if people would be interested in pdf only games or not but I did include some. I don't know why I didn't even think of going to DriveThruRPG or RPGNow or something similar. Apparently, there are a TON more of these steampunk games than I ever imagined but that's a good thing.

  5. YOu did not mention http://pameangames.com/ Brass and Steel....a very simple game with a rich world

    1. Thanks! I will definitely check it out.

    2. I'm glad to hear of this game--it sounds really cool to have a combination of LARPing and pen & paper...and you can own a "real" book if you prefer that sort of stuff. I'm also glad the creator of Tephra chimed in, as it sounds like something I'd like after all. I can't believe the amount of energy it must take to promote these games, attending the conventions all the time. There certainly seem like there's a good deal of them [games] about these days, which couldn't make me happier...except for having to pick one or two. Anything "simple and rich" will get me interested though: I don't need 5,000 small print pages of stuff to read. -Reifyn

    3. Glad the post helped. I hear you - it is almost too much to take in at times with all of the variety. It seems like a tremendous undertaking to do all of the promotion, demos, etc. for a game. More business, less game.